Sunday, October 26, 2014

Gospel Topic Essays

Sooo, it’s been a long time since I wrote anything. School has been taking it’s toll on me, which I didn’t quite expect to drain me so much and require quite as much time, but I haven’t stopped writing, just slowed down, so today is a short catch-up post.

Some of you are probably familiar with or have at least heard of the churches new Gospel Topic articles. They are about topics the church usually hadn’t addressed in recent years, or at least as in depth as the articles are. They are very good at giving the groundwork for discussions on these often difficult topics with many references to scholarly work and research on the subjects. I just want to give you links to them here in one place so you can go read them yourselves. If you want more beyond the articles, I recommend you check out the footnotes in them, they are quite good.

Are Mormons Christian?

Book of Mormon Translation

Book of Mormon and DNA Studies

Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham

First Vision Accounts

Race and the Priesthood

Becoming Like God

Peace and Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints

Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo

Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah

The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage

There you have it. Some great beginning resources on the topics, which for many people is all they want or need, so dig in!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Temple

Today was the Ogden Temple re-dedication and I've been thinking about the importance of the Temple to me and want to share some thoughts.

I have good memories of performing baptisms for the dead in high school when we would go the Ogden Temple as early as we could muster and a group of us would go before school--once even ventured to the Salt Lake Temple. I have good memories of receiving my endowments in the Ogden Temple in 2008. As a missionary in the MTC, I was able to attend the Provo Utah Temple, after moving out to Chile as a missionary, I had the privilege of attending the Santiago Chile Temple multiple times and participated in baptisms, confirmations, initiatories, endowments and sealings. I now live in Logan Utah and have spent years attending the Logan Utah Temple. In December 2013, I was sealed to my wife in the Logan Utah Temple. The Temple has been involved in the most pivotal moments of my life, however, I think that my attendance during the ordinary, average, even difficult days, are what keep me moving closer to God as I honor those covenants I have made at the pivotal moments.

I have received answers while serving in the Temple and have found peace in difficult times. I have found strength and been reminded of how much Heavenly Father loves me, ME, Ben Byers, not a general love for everyone (which He does have), but for me as an individual.

I love learning about the Temple. So, a few book recommendations are up! I haven't read some of these cover to cover yet, but I am working on it and they are all sitting on my shelves, so feel free to borrow them, unless I'm currently reading them :-)

"The Gate of Heaven" by Matthew B. Brown--A great book about symbolism and history of the Moses Tabernacle, Solomon's Temple and some on modern day Temples.

"Symbols in Stone" by Matthew B. Brown--Discusses symbolism on the outside of the Temples.

"The House of the Lord" by James E. Talmage--History and importance of Temples. If I remember correctly, this was the first book written about Temples by a Mormon.

"The Holy Temple" by Boyd K. Packer--Discusses the why of Temples in modern days.

"Temple and Cosmos" by Hugh W. Nibley--A wide array of articles discussing the why of Temples, the history of Temples and some things about creation and the plan of salvation--I would say this is the most dense/scholarly of the books on the list.

I know that the Temple is the House of God. I love being there. I love thinking about it. Today, I attended the 10am dedicatory session and when President Monson spoke, he said,
"Love the Temple. Appreciate the Temple. Attend the Temple."
I will.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Some Thought-Provoking LDS Podcast Episodes Part 2

Here is part 2 of my recommended and favorite LDS podcasts!

The Good Word Podcast--this podcast is always from a faithful perscpective. The host, Nick Galietti interviews LDS authors and writers. He is a host for FairMormon as well.

Jeffrey M. Bradshaw Interview, Episode 2.18--This is an interview with one of my favorite LDS scholars on the Pearl of Great Price and Temple imagery. This podcast doesn't go into details from what I remember, but it gives you a taste of what he does--and I think they talk about his job as researcher...which is really cool too!

Matt Meese and Mallory Everton Interview, Episode 2.2--Those who watch Studio C will enjoy this interview quite a bit. Matt and Mallory talk about how they got into sketch comedy and a little about the birth of Studio C and how they work on sketches. Fun stuff.

A Thoughtful Faith - Mormon/LDS--like it says, this is a "thoughtful" faith. They don't always have the most faithful members being interviewed at times, sometimes they have left the church or have been excommunicated, but they try to cover a spectrum of academics and experts. The ones I'm recommending here are from faithful members of the church who specialize in sometimes difficult topics and they discuss their faith, the history, the doctrine and share their testimonies.

John Sorenson on Book of Mormon Historicity, Episode 005--Lots of interesting information on Book of Mormon geography. He talks about his book that was forthcoming, "Mormon's Codex", but has since been released and I am currently trying to dig through, slowly (I read WAY too many books at once), but have enjoyed the bits I have read. It makes the Book of Mormon even more fascinating providing the best model (in my opinion) of where the Book of Mormon took place.

The Wisdom and Faith of Thomas Alexander, Episode 008--This is a faithful LDS scholar who is a professor emeritus of Brigham Young University, specializing in American and Mormon history who probably knows more about the growth, expansion and history of the church from 1890-1930. If you like history a lot and politics, this may be for you.

Terryl & Fiona Givens - Faith, Doubt, and The God Who Weeps, Episode 010--I always enjoy listening to the Givens talk about the uniqueness of the LDS faith and yet it's universality. They talk about doubt, faith and a God who weeps with us and for us. If you want to hear some very thoughtful faithful Latter-day Saints who are extremely well read outside of the LDS world, these are two to listen to. This is the shortest interview of theirs, it's a little taste of their thoughts.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Alma On Faith

These are just a bunch of thoughts on pieces of Alma 32-33 about faith in particular. I took up a personal study of this everyday for a month or so and found a gold mine. What I share here are pieces. Please share thoughts or other scriptures that you feel add to this conversation about faith.

Faith is a choice.
Plant a seed, reap the fruits.
Seed of faith vs. Seed of doubt
Both of these are real and produce real, tangible fruits.

32:21--"And now as I said concerning faith--faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true"

32:16-22--These verses focus on the importance of just believing, which appears to be more powerful and important than we give it credit, WAY more important and powerful. However, we don't want to stop here and think this is enough, that would cut the importance of what belief ultimately should lead to.

32:27--"...awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words."
*There is a very beautiful structure here where Alma is showing how incremental growth and understanding in the Gospel can work. Some just simply need to desire to believe in order for the Gospel to become active in their lives. If you try to have someone in this position reach beyond their faith, they will not grow and they won't nourish the seed. We must be patient, we must be willing to work closely with those who are at this stage (including ourselves!) and we must provide an atmosphere where they can flourish. "To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. 14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful." (D&C 46:13-14) emphasis mine. There needs to be patience with all in the Gospel because we are all at different levels of belief, faith, understanding and knowledge. These are not things we can expect from anyone, but they are most certainly things to encourage in everyone. I'm a firm believer in fostering what is good, building it up, learning from mistakes, pressing forward and growing (sounds like repentance to me). These things all have a common beginning, belief in the choices that I make. We all show our beliefs by doing (or not doing) many different things (this could be characterized as faith and doubt--which are opposites). If I don't believe I can know something, I won't seek after it. This could be compared to not even trying the seed, which does NOT mean that the seed is not good or that it won't grow if you were to plant it and care for it. 
*The idea of "giv[ing] place for a portion of my words" is fantastically insightful. It is not required that one believe everything off the bat. A portion of his words, just a little bit! I have seen instances where we have judged another for not believing something, this can't be the case since we need to help everyone to increase in their desires to believe, learn, grow and have and exercise faith, no matter where they start. A portion differs for many people as well. Similar to eating food, portion sizes are different.

22 If so, wo shall come upon you; but if not so, then cast about your eyes and begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works.
23 And now, my brethren, I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life. And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen.

Alma clarifies that the seed they are to plant is the Son of God. Believe in Christ, believe that He is, believe that He suffered and died for your sins. This is the seed for which one needs to make room, plant and nourish until a tree of everlasting life springs up in you. This takes time and CONSTANT nourishment. You can't selectively nourish the seed, it must be taken care of in all climates of life. Sometimes it may require a little bit more nourishment depending on the weather of the day, week, month or year. Believe and then do.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Some Thought-Provoking LDS Podcast Episodes Part 1

I LOVE podcasts. I listen to lots of them. Megan can attest to that, as well as my dad and a really good friend. They are helpful ways for me to get my "think on". I listen to podcasts about technology and, recently health, but my favorites are, unsurprisingly, LDS related. Some are definitely worth more than others, so here are some recommendations (and explanations) out of the many I've listened to. This is first of a 2-4 part series of suggested podcasts. They are broken up by the podcast that the episodes are from with links to the specific episodes.

I will be recommending specific podcast episodes from the following podcasts over the next few weeks:

  • FairMormon--this has multiple podcasts, which include, but are not limited to the following--which are all aimed at helping us to increase our faith and understanding on a huge range of issues:
    • Frameworks
    • Articles of Faith
    • Keeping the Faith
    • Faith and Reason
    • Fair Issues
  • The Good Word--interviews with LDS authors about their books. I've listened to very few of these since I don't recognize very many of the authors, but I will recommend a couple.
  • Mormon Stories--this podcast has a few amazing episodes where faithful scholars are interviewed (often times, they are drilled more than interviewed), and many interviews with those who have left the church, been excommunicated or struggle with the church. I do not recommend all of these, but some are interesting to provide perspective. I will only be mentioning episodes that have faithful Latter-Day Saint scholars that have potential to help us deepen our faith and understanding. If you want any other recommendations, feel free to ask me in the comments or send me a message/email.
  • A Thoughtful Faith--interviews with LDS scholars usually, but not so much recently.
  • Mormon Matters--this is on the more scholarly end of the LDS podcasts.  I will be recommending some that I really enjoy and think provide some interesting perspectives on the scriptures and doctrine. I'm not a huge fan of how they handle social issues on this podcast. Every once and a while they do a good job, but not my favorite.

FairMormon Frameworks: this podcast has some of my favorite interviews! They are usually about 30-60min, but some go over.

  • FairMormon Frameworks 1a: Brad Wilcox–Changed by Grace: An interview with Brad Wilcox about some insights into the doctrine of Grace. For those who read his BYU Speech in my last blog post will really enjoy this. If you didn’t go read or listen to his talk at BYU, do it! Click here to read it.
    • This is part 2 of the same interview
  • FairMormon Frameworks 2 : Steven Harper First Vision: Steven Harper is currently working on the Joseph Smith Papers project and wrote a book about the first vision accounts, which is the focus of this interview. If you’ve ever wondered about the various first vision accounts, give this a listen.
  • FairMormon Frameworks 4: Brian Hales Polygamy: If you have any struggles with polygamy, this may be a podcast for you. Brian Hales is interviewed about polygamy and many issues that people have with it. He only provides short and quick responses due to the interview format but there are links to his website. I’ve read and listened to oodles of his stuff. In my opinion, Brian Hales is a champ.
  • FairMormon Frameworks 9: Richard Bushman – Helping Those in Doubt: A really great interview about helping those who struggle with perceived issues in the church. I think Richard Bushman has a very good perspective on how faith and reason work together.
  • FairMormon Frameworks 10: Terryl Givens Crucible of Doubt: Another great podcast on dealing with doubts and choosing faith. Terryl Givens is very articulate. This page has links to a few articles and books he has written as well that I highly recommend.
  • FairMormon Frameworks 11: Brant Gardner Gift and Power: To be honest, this is one of favorites! Brant Gardner talks about the translation of the Book of Mormon and the “magical” side that critics like to throw. I’ve read his book “The Gift and Power” and loved it! I don’t always agree with him on some of his conclusions, but I think he is one of the funnest scholars to listen to talk about the Book of Mormon translation and Book of Mormon lands. Highly recommended.

There are more on the FairMormon Frameworks page that are great, but these are ones I love and that have increased my faith as I seek to learn by study and also by faith. Please comment and let me know what you think of these suggestions! If you have any questions, also please ask them in the comments!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Some of My Favorite BYU Speeches

I have listened and read many speeches/talks given at BYU over the years and want to recommend a few of my favorites. Many of them I revisited multiple times. This is far from exhaustive (if you have time, listen to all of the Hugh Nibley talks on BYU Speeches or all of the Elder Holland ones! I haven't even done that yet...I have a tendency to repeat ones that I really like...), but these are ones that have resonated with me for years and I think about them quite often--they have just stuck with me. Many of these were given when Elder Holland, Elder Oaks and Elder Bednar were not Apostles yet, so they probably had more time to speak there, but I wish they still gave talks like this on a more regular basis!

Just click on the title of the talk and it will take you to that talks page on (basically, I did all the work for you because I think these talks are worth your time!).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: I have to say, if you think Elder Holland is passionate when he speaks in conference, some of these speeches are much more passionate and straight from the heart. I love listening to these!
--For Times of Trouble--Oh man, this has one of my favorite Elder Holland quotes of all time:
"If there is one lament I cannot abide—and I hear it from adults as well as students—it is the poor, pitiful, withered cry, “Well, that’s just the way I am.” If you want to talk about discouragement, that phrase is one that discourages me. Though not a swearing man, I am always sorely tempted to try my hand when I hear that. Please spare me your speeches about “That’s just the way I am.”"
He is so open, so honest and just gives it straight in this talk.

--Remember Lot's Wife--This talk discusses the need to look forward, move on, repent and leave the past in the past. Don't dig it up. There is some great counsel for husbands and wives that applies to all of our relationships.

--"Cast Not Away Therefore Thy Confidence"--Elder Holland relates the stories of Joseph Smith's first vision and of Moses talking with God from Moses 1. He focuses on the attacks of the adversary in these events and how we are not to "cast..away [our] confidence" just because we are in dark times but to remember the spiritual experiences that we have had. Doubts will come, but remember.

--The Inconvenient Messiah--I've listened to this one countless times. Elder Holland walks through the Savior's temptations and applies them directly to our lives and gives counsel on overcoming these difficulties. I always feel his love and concern for each one of us as I listen to this talk and reflect on much of the counsel.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks:
--Revelation--Just a solid, Elder Oaks style talk (roman numerals and all!) about revelation that reminds us of our part to make decisions for ourselves without being told what can of food we should take off the grocery store shelf.

Elder David A. Bednar:
--In the Strength of the Lord--Before reading/listening to this talk years ago for the first time, I had never thought much about the phrase "in the strength of the Lord", which is only used two or three times in the entire Book of Mormon. Elder Bednar helps us to gain a greater appreciation for going forth in our daily lives "in the strength of the Lord".

--Quick to Observe--Great talk about spiritual gifts that we may overlook but are just as real and poignant in our day to day lives.

--A Reservoir of Living Water--one of the best talks about studying the scriptures that I've ever heard and read. There is a story that Elder Bednar shares about him studying the gathering of Israel for a talk (or something) that I think about almost every week that reminds me that I need to be involved when studying the scriptures and be creative--I don't just need to be "conventional" about it. Listen/read it and you'll see what I mean.

Brad Wilcox
--His Grace is Sufficient--Hands down my FAVORITE talk on grace never given in General Conference! If you aren't familiar with Brad Wilcox, he was the most sought after 6th grade teacher at an elementary school when BYU caught wind of his abilities to really reach the students and inspire them. Long story short, he teaches at BYU now and is a powerful youth speaker and then hit it out of the park with this talk that has helped me to better understand the Savior's grace.

Terryl Givens
--Lightning from Heaven--one of my favorite talks about Joseph Smith and his impact in the world of religion. Terryl Givens is one of my current favorite LDS authors. He is very eloquent and is obsessed with the restoration of what he terms "dialogic" revelation--the concept of us talking with God personally to receive guidance. Good stuff.

Hugh W. Nibley: I love listening to Nibley. I read his stuff very often, but listening to him is WAY more fun! Highly recommended. Actually only one of these is available to read anyway, you have to listen to the others.
--Leaders and Managers--What's the difference between a leader and a manger? Why does it matter? How does it relate to the Gospel? Read or listen for some great Nibley wit and wisdom! This is one I'll be listening to this week :-)
--How to Write and Anti-Mormon Book--My sister Becky and I found this gem years ago. It is quite sarcastic, satirical and biting. Becky and I love it. If you want to listen to Nibley rant about anti-mormon literature, this will provide some interesting insight as well as humor. I have read (and run across) anti-mormon literature every once and a while as I study something and this talk set a baseline for me while I was young about how to consider other peoples motives, desires, sources, conclusions, etc...Some people think Nibley crossed a line here and was too sarcastic. Maybe he did, but I have to tell you, my feelings after reading that stuff almost requires humor and sarcasm out of sheer frustration sometimes. So, I still love this talk.
--Exaltation and Eternal Life--This talk is one of my favorite Nibley talks/articles/speeches of all time! He strings together a bunch of quotes from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (mostly) and discusses the transient nature of this life and what really matters. Listen to it!

Once again, these are only SOME of the talks I really enjoy. I can list others if people show an interest in these. Please comment if you listen to one and like it or even if you dislike it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sin and Politics in the Book of Mormon

This post is different than normal, since I'm WAY behind with my posts (I have several in the pipeline, I just can't seem to finish polishing them) I have decided to share some thoughts my dad shared with me a little while ago about politics and the Book of Mormon and how it relates to sin. I know that this has controversial potential (religion and politics together, sounds dangerous right?) so I'm well aware that people will disagree as is my dad aware of that, so feel free to comment. I think my dad provides some thought provoking insights from the Book of Mormon in regards to our personal responsibilities in regards to politics. On with the article:

In Alma 8:16 and 17 there is an interesting definition of sin, one that I had not considered before.
The angel says to Alma:
8:16- And behold, I am sent to command thee that thou return to the city of Ammonihah, and preach again unto the people of the city; yea, preach unto them.  Yea, say unto them, except they repent the Lord God will destroy them.  17- For behold, they do study at this time that they may destroy the liberty of thy people, (for thus saith the Lord) which is contrary to the statutes, and judgments, and commandments which he has given unto his people.
Their sin is explained as one that could be seen as politics.  They were studying to destroy the liberty of “thy people”.  Since the angel refers to “his people” in his speaking to Alma, I see this as being an effort by those in Ammonihah to take away the religious freedom of those who belong to the church – Alma’s “people”.  It was not adultery or other traditional “sins”, rather, one of plotting to take away the rights of others and possibly in this case specifically religious freedom.  
We see another reference to this in Alma 9:19.  “For he will not suffer you that ye shall live in your iniquities, to destroy his people”.  And then I think we need to note that verses 20-22 describe how they have been delivered from bondage, had all things spiritual made known unto them, had their prayers answered, faith strengthened, visited by the Spirit of God, having conversed with angels, being given spiritual gifts, being delivered out of Jerusalem (he goes all the way back to Lehi) and having been saved from sickness, famine and war.  It is a lengthy outline of the many blessings that the people have received throughout their history and then in 23 we see the warning “And now behold I say unto you, that if this people, who have received so many blessings from the hand of the Lord, should transgress contrary to the light and knowledge which they do have, I say unto you that if this be the case, that if they should fall into transgression, it would be far more tolerable for the Lamanites than for them.”
It may not initially seem related to “politics”.  However, I believe it is related since it deals with the sins of the “people” as a group, and the nation can only fall if the “people” forget God and allow those above them to take control.  Allowing those in power to take over seems to be frowned upon of itself.  
Back in chapter 8 verse 11 we see those liberals in Ammonihah state that they “are not of thy church, and we do not believe in such foolish traditions” and then in 8:13 we see their behavior toward Alma where they “withstood all his words, and reviled him, and spit upon him, and caused that he should be cast out of their city.”  These behaviors are all similar to those we see today from the liberals.  
In our society today, we see a group of individuals who are effectively taking away our right to worship and to have God in our everyday public lives.  God has now been removed from schools, from the work-place, from public buildings and meetings and for the most part from public discourse.  And those who are seeking to remove this freedom from us are not through.  They are still seeking to remove every remaining vestige of religion – specifically Christianity – from our lives and it doesn’t seem that they will be satisfied until they have succeeded in doing so.  
Our liberals today seem to be following the same course as those in the city of Ammonihah.  They ridicule those who believe in God and Jesus Christ.  They revile us and would in many cases spit upon us if they could get away with it.  In our case today, they have advanced beyond studying to take away our liberty and are actually in the process of doing so.  
I keep referring to “they” and “liberals”, but let me point out that these are also people in positions of influence and power.  Our political leaders, leaders in various organizations (for ex. schools) and those who are influential in public opinion.  Note in Alma 10:27 that Alma warns:
And now behold, I say unto you, that the foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness of your lawyers and your judges.”
The leaders and those in positions of influence are identified as those at the foundation of the problem which is also our problem today.  It is a pattern that will also lead to our destruction as it did theirs.
I find it so interesting that in Alma 8 God identified specifically what their sin was.  Now, if we note Ether 8:23-25 there seems to be a parallel warning about our day.  We are warned about our own destruction if we “suffer these things to be.”  Those “things” being groups (and our support of them) who are built up to get power and gain.  To be very specific, verse 25 is very explicit:
“For it cometh to pass that whoso buildeth it up seeketh to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations and countries; and it bringeth to pass the destruction of all people for it is built up by the devil, who is the father of all lies.”
It may seem that the passages in Ether are more focused on general destruction of the people by taking away political rights – but due to verse 22, I believe there is a direct correlation between these groups seeking to take away the rights of the people in general and religious rights in specific.  Ether 22 states:
And whatsoever nation shall uphold such secret combinations, to get power and gain, until they shall spread over the nation, behold they shall be destroyed; for the Lord will not suffer that the blood of this saints, which shall be shed by them, shall always cry unto him from the ground.”  
Evidently, these two things go hand in hand.  Those who combine to seek power and gain will, and do, seek to deprive the people of their rights of religion and will in due course kill them to obtain their goals.  We also see that sadly there is a large portion of the population that gets pulled into the group supporting the combination.  Of course we see that happen in the Book of Mormon several times – and it does not end well in each instance.  War and destruction inevitably follow.  
If we return to the account of Alma in Ammonihah, we learn in 10:22 that it is only because of the prayers of the few righteous who still exist in “the land” that the Ammonihahites have not already been destroyed.  So what happens?  In 14:8 the believers – men, women and children, are burned to death – and removed from “the land”.  This was the last bit of protection for those in Ammonihah, and we see in 16:2-3 that all those in Ammonihah were subsequently killed by a Lamanite army – and it is suggested that all of those from Ammonihah were destroyed, with captives only being taken from some of the surrounding areas.  
What an amazing pattern and it begs the question of our day today and what is currently happening within our government and where it is going.  How much longer do we have before the Lord sends judgment upon us?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why I Study Church History and Why I Think You Should Too

This was inspired by a response I started writing to a comment about my post last week about Elder Christofferson's and President Uchtdorf's recent talks on Church History and some of my thoughts in regards to some of what they said. It turned in to a "why I study church history and why you should to". I'm putting it here due to size and the hope it will be more permanent than as a comment--as a disclaimer, it is not a complete explanation of my thoughts on the subject of church history, nor is it perfect (in thought or grammar), but these are some of my reasons and explanations as they currently stand:

To start off, I completely believe and agree that immersing oneself in the scriptures is the priority. That's actually how I ended up studying church history. It gives context to the teachings of the church. The Doctrine and Covenants is tied inseparably to it's history. The events surrounding the revelations makes them all the more interesting and insightful. I have found forays into extra-canonical (outside of the LDS quad and general conference) history, tradition, geography and theology to be extremely insightful to my personal thoughts on scripture and the words of the latter day prophets. I understand that not everyone enjoys this like I do, but I hope to explain some of why I agree with Elder Christofferson's assertion that church history is turning into an "all or nothing" sort of paradox. Some of these thoughts are not contiguous, so please, keep that in mind.

In Elder Christofferson's talk, he puts his main emphasis on Joseph Smith's calling and reminds people to trust the Spirit, which is key, however, the Spirit speaks to our heart and mind and when someone comes across something they don't like in history, it can cause thoughts and feelings of confusion, doubt, disbelief and these can seem overwhelming and lead one to question what they know is true, question the validity of the blessings and the hand of God in their lives. This can lead to doubt and a wearied soul. I'm not saying that they have no choice or reason to believe anymore, but it can seem like it to them. I have listened to many who have reached that point in their lives and it is real, painful, heartbreaking and needs to be dealt with. Dipping toes in the history of the church does not lead to resolving this problem. Complete immersion in the history can bring one to the point again where their mind and heart reach a balance that makes the choice of faith feasible. 

It is odd, as you mentioned, that Elder Christofferson would push the idea of a need to immerse ourselves in church history if we are going to study it. All I can say is that there is much more to study and read on individual topics than I believe many have ever considered, both ugly and beautiful. I think it's possible that he quoted Richard Turley because he is someone who has studied difficult things and wrestled with them, even written books and articles about them (namely assisting with "Massacre at Mountain Meadows" which is not a pleasant read).

I would put much of the reason that this is the case on the fact that the internet has provided an unfiltered means for the dissemination of information, both correct and incorrect. Those who are antagonistic to the church jumped on this immediately to share all they could to "prove" the church isn't true and to shake it at it's roots, the early history which so much of our belief is based on. The problem was/is that many of the sources of the information were good, but the interpretation was lacking, but the documents were being shared by antagonists! They must be wrong...or something...well, the church has started to remedy this problem and publish everything under the sun that mentions or deals with Joseph Smith or the early church. They recently posted on the Joseph Smith Papers website a journal of John Whitmer that covers history from 1831 to around 1847. He doesn't always have the nicest things to say since he was excommunicated in 1838.

As a side note, the Church Historians Office is doing the Joseph Smith Papers, not BYU. There are some BYU professors involved and some funding from BYU but they are being headed and done by the Church Historians office, which is awesome. They are publishing things no one has ever had access to or seen (council of the 50 minutes is one I'm interested in), which has been really good to counter the attacks of critics that they are hiding something. Also, FARMS no longer exists as it once did (kind of sad, and a mess depending on who you ask). The Maxwell Institute has a Mormon Studies board that has zero of the people from FARMS and BYU has taken a completely different approach by having 19th century historians, early Mormon scholars, theologians and some Near Eastern studies scholars--several of which don't teach at BYU, which is kind of fun. Anyway, the people from FARMS founded The Interpreter after the dissolution of FARMS about two years ago now, which is very much worth anybody's time.

The idea of what history the church should teach/publish has been a serious back and forth for years, recently since the 1980s, but has been around much longer. There have been different types of historians throughout the churches history pushing for different things. B.H. Roberts and Joseph Fielding Smith are my favorite examples. B.H. Roberts wanted and considered everything, hence his mountain of books and seven volume history of the church with detailed footnotes. Joseph Fielding Smith only published the parts that were considered faith promoting (see "Essentials in Church History")--this discussion influenced part of what history we grew up with in the church. From 1972 to 1982, Leonard J. Arrington was the church historian and wanted to publish scholarly LDS histories. This article on is an interview with him from 1975 that showed his hope and vision of the future of church history and histories, but little became of it--the factors of which can only be speculated. Some claim that President Packer's emphasis on "faith promoting history" is why Leonard J. Arrington was cut short. I can't imagine how thrilled he would be to know that The Joseph Smith Papers project is pushing ahead and adding more volumes and announcing additions to the originally proposed set!

Here is a snippet from the end of the interview that explains a major reason why I study church history:

Ensign: Does your study of Church history give you any special perspective on the various contemporary issues that create tensions for members of the Church?
Brother Arrington: Yes, it’s extremely helpful. We believe very strongly that the more people know about the gospel, the stronger their testimony will be. My study of Church history makes me feel very confident about the Church, its history, and its future. Our leaders are showing great wisdom in handling and solving organizational problems and in the delicate social and moral issues of our age. It’s not always easy and matters do not always go as some would like, but the leadership seems sure and competently surmounts each problem as it arises. Moreover, the Lord will not allow the Church to fail or its leaders to take us astray. Many of the things that perturb some in relation to the Church will be seen in the perspective of historians to be handled with remarkable restraint, wisdom, and forthrightness.
Ensign: Confidence in the future, then, is one of the results for you of your involvement in Church history. Are there other reasons why we should understand Church history?
Brother Arrington: Yes! Understanding Church history helps us understand the importance of what we’re doing by explaining something about the purposes of the Lord at each stage of history. It makes it easier to understand the importance of what we’re doing today. Each decade, each month, and each day is important in building the kingdom, and you get a perspective of that in viewing the months and years already past.
Each day we are confronted with the sensual images of the material side of life. Church history helps us see a more important side, a spiritual side, the eternal values of what goes on in our hearts and minds. It helps us maintain a sense of identity with our roots, with those whose ideas, policies, and suggestions are incorporated in our daily lives. History helps us develop loyalty to our traditional values and institutions, to our families, our leaders, our policies and programs. No individual is complete without history. No family is. And neither is the Church.

The churches foundations and faith are tied to relatively recent history. The first vision, the restoration of the Priesthood, receiving the Gold plates, translation, testimonies of witnesses, the coming forth of the Book of Abraham and more. We believe one thing as history, and base our understanding around it, but when we encounter another account that is different, it can appear as a challenge to our personal faith paradigm. The first vision and accounts of the translation of the Book of Mormon are some of the most common ones I've heard people encounter first and some are quite bothered while others enjoy the new information. There are things that are difficult, potentially unsettling and have few or no good answers and some (if not many) find this challenging to the foundations of their faith due to our faiths historical nature.

Elder Steven E. Snow (current church historian) and Elder Marlin Jensen (previous church historian) have been speaking about this as well. Elder Snow has said that church is shifting from the "sanitized history" and can't afford that anymore. This is partially why new Seminary manuals are coming out. They'll mention polygamy, the different accounts of the first vision, "money digging", etc...

What other reasons do I have for studying church history? Many others, but a few important ones are: I want to help others to hold on to the good. Hold fast to what they know is true. To "doubt [their] doubts before [they] doubt [their] faith." (Elder Holland, October 2013 General Conference). Remember the feelings they have while studying the Book of Mormon and listening to a Prophet's voice.

Anyway, I've seen people leave over history issues that they haven't studied well enough. But, to tie back to what you said about immersing ourselves in the scriptures, they sometimes seem to have lightened up on their studying and living of the Gospel--but, this is not always the case.

Hopefully this clarifies and expounds on some of my views and thoughts. I have a lot more I could say about this, but I will save that for future posts.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

President Uchtdorf and Elder Christofferson on Church History

I have been thinking about the importance of church history to each of us and wanted to share some thoughts from two great talks that were given within the last year.

The first I will share from is a talk Elder Christofferson gave at BYU-Idaho on September 24, 2013.
Elder Christofferson opens by discussing what the angel Moroni told Joseph Smith, that his name would be had for good and evil and how that is being fulfilled. He then talks about the Joseph Smith Papers project and the Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith manual, commending it to be studied. He had this to say in regards to the WHY behind the Joseph Smith Papers project, 
"Our study of the Prophet’s life and ministry are more than an intellectual exercise to satisfy curiosity. Insofar as we can, we want to know what he knew; we want to understand what he understood; we want to draw near to God as he did, for as Nicodemus said of the Savior so we can say of Joseph, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God.” "

I want to just say that studying the life of Joseph Smith has provided me with insight into what he knew and has helped my perspective expand to begin to understand a tiny bit of what he understood. I just finished Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman and I was inspired to be more humble, meek and trusting as Joseph was. There is so much that we can learn from studying his life as to how to be a better disciple of Jesus Christ.

Elder Christofferson mentions patience in dealing with evidences for the Book of Mormon and gives an example of steel being found in the America's by referring to a blog post from FairMormon that discusses recent findings. He concludes the thought here by saying, 

"Where answers are incomplete or lacking altogether, patient study and patient waiting for new information and discoveries to unfold will often be rewarded with understanding."

I have found that to be true. In my few years of studying church history, scripture, doctrine and theology, I have seen things come to light that weren't available or known about 10 years ago! Patiently pressing forward, especially when you are frustrated or struggling with an incomplete answer or church history jig saw puzzle, is crucial and key to continue to grow in faith.

I also want to plug FairMormon as a reference for quick answers to difficult questions. It doesn't contain everything or even some of the best answers at times, but it is highly commendable. I guess I may call it a springboard into the waters of discussion on difficult topics.

He then says, "Don't be superficial." He clarifies,

"When I say don’t be superficial, I mean don’t form conclusions based on unexamined assertions or incomplete research, and don’t be influenced by insincere seekers. I would offer you the advice of our Assistant Church Historian, Rick Turley, an intellectually gifted researcher and author whose recent works include the definitive history of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. He says simply, “Don’t study Church history too little.” "

He then adds this by Alexander Pope,
"A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again."

This is exactly how I feel! We have to dig in and commit. The more we study, the mite expansive our view becomes. This doesn't mean we won't run into things along the way that bother us.

The next point he makes is to not ignore the Spirit.

"Finally, don’t neglect the Spirit. As regards Joseph Smith, we seek learning both by study and by faith. Both are fruitful paths of inquiry. A complete understanding can never be attained by scholarly research alone, especially since much of what is needed is either lost or never existed. There is no benefit in imposing artificial limits on ourselves that cut off the light of Christ and the revelations of the Holy Spirit."

Faith and study compliment each other. Using our minds that God has given us to study those things which we have broaden our understanding and deepen our faith, if we let them. Studying with our mind alone can shut out faith, but so can studying by "faith" shut out the intellect. God wants us to use both! This takes more work than many of us have considered or been told, but it is extremely rewarding.

I am not going to cover anything from his last three points except I will quote Joseph's testimony of the resurrected Christ.

D&C 76:22-24
22 And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
23 For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father
24 That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.

The rest of the talk is great, so go read the whole thing!

The other talk I wanted to recommend is from President Uchtdorf when he gave the keynote address at the BYU Church History Symposium earlier this year. He said a few things that really resonated with me.

"History teaches us not only about the leaves of existence. It also teaches about the twigs, branches, trunks, and roots of life. And these lessons are important.
One of the weaknesses we have as mortals is to assume that our “leaf” is all there is—that our experience encompasses everyone else’s, that our truth is complete and universal. As I considered what I wanted to speak about today, it seemed that the metaphor of the leaf needed to be at the heart. But I also ran across an old Yiddish expression that goes, “To a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish.” I want to emphasize that the truth embraced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints extends beyond leaves and certainly beyond horseradish. It extends beyond time and space and encompasses all truth—from the mysteries of the tiniest atoms to the vast and incomprehensible secrets that the universe holds so tantalizingly before us."

Beautiful, right? This is how I feel about truth as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We encompass ALL truth, wherever it comes from. We continue digging, searching, seeking, pondering, asking, praying, using our might, mind and strength to find truth.

Our little leaf is just that, little. We can and should expand our minds and understandings to stretch and understand the twigs, branches trunks and roots of life--not just mortal life, but our eternal life.

The scriptures are a starting ground, but we have our own history, our own teachings, ideologies and interpretations that require us to go beyond our current leaves to understand as much of the tree as we can.

Well, my last quote is lengthy, so you'll have to read the whole talk at this link:

Here's my final quote choice,

"Throughout the record of sacred history, we find that our Heavenly Father teaches His children over and again not to place their trust in the wisdom of the world—not to overvalue what the world holds in high regard. He teaches us that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” And yet we have an almost irresistible desire to assume that the leaf of information we have in our possession is a representation of all there is to know. We assume that the horseradish that we see all around us is proof that the world is made of the substance.
We do the best we can with the information at our disposal to make assumptions and increase the body of knowledge—and this is a noble pursuit. However, when we assume that what we know is all there is to know, we miss the mark and our philosophies and theories fall short of the rich truths that populate heaven and earth.
In the words of Orson F. Whitney, an early Apostle of the Church, the gospel “embraces all truth, whether known or unknown. It incorporates all intelligence, both past and prospective. No righteous principle will ever be revealed, no truth can possibly be discovered, either in time or in eternity, that does not in some manner, directly or indirectly, pertain to the Gospel of Jesus Christ”
Our Heavenly Father teaches this lesson to His children over and again—He warns against setting aside the knowledge of God or dismissing its importance. He teaches us that we should not assume that what we know—what we can prove and test and verify—is all that there is. “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” 

Truth is truth is truth is truth. However, we should not assume that it little slivers are the whole picture. Don't confuse the type and color of the paint for the painting.

God wants us to believe Him and to believe IN Him. As we follow Him, He will expand our understanding, strengthen our Spirits and lead us back to Him. We can't let our limited understanding keep us from Him. Whether we stumble over church history, science, doctrine, principles, theology, philosophy, what have you, don't lose sight of what is truly important. Keep pressing forward.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Thoughts from "Increase in Learning" by David A. Bednar--Part 4

Chapter 4: Doctrine, Principles, and Applications: A Framework for Gospel Learning

"In the times in which we do now and will yet live, only the restored gospel of Jesus Christ provides the answers to the eternally important why questions--the questions of the soul. Answers to all of the why questions we might ask have not been revealed, but the answers to the most fundamental why questions are readily available in the doctrine of Christ."--P.154

Yep. Not much more to be said, other than that I know that I have found many answers to the why questions from studying AND living the Gospel. It is both an intellectual knowledge and an experiential knowledge.

"Do not be too concerned or worried about quickly finding the right answer. Rather, focus upon asking the right questions. If the questions are right, then we are much more likely to obtain inspired and insightful answers as we work, ponder, search, and pray."--P.161

This is one of my favorite quotes of the entire book! I have seen this time and time again in my own experience of studying the scriptures, serving in the church, studying church history and seeking to better understand how to become more like Christ--there is an entire blog post in the works on the power of right questions. The right questions and the best questions lead to the right answers and the best answers. Everytime. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that the just because you ask the right or best question that the answer will fall in your lap, some of these answers take YEARS to finally get or even properly understand, but asking the right questions can prepare your mind to be accepting of the right answers, no matter what they may be.

I have a brief example of how asking questions improves our scripture study. I was listening to a podcast about the influence of Hugh Nibley in the church (there is a blog post in the future about some of my favorite LDS podcasts) and a story was shared where Hugh Nibley discussed Moses 1:1 for an ENTIRE semester!  I’ve been studying Alma 32 quite a bit recently and have just been blown away by how much there is contained in a single verse. This morning, I was going over Alma 32:16-22 and I was trying to ask better questions about these verses than I have before. I ended up asking, “What am I missing here?” because I felt like there was something going on that I was missing. After asking this, a couple things stood out as it caused me to slow down and scour the verses. I didn’t find everything, and I’ll keep combing them over, but I did find this in verse 22, “I would that ye should remember, that God is merciful unto all who believe on his name; therefore he desireth, in the first place, that ye should believe, yea, even on his word.” I’ve read that many times, but today, it struck me after asking an initial question of “What was I missing?” I now see that this verse is telling me that God wants me to just believe His word so that He will pour out His mercy on me! Simple, but prompted by a question that caused me to read slower.

"...the purification, the joy, the happiness, the continuing conversion, and the spiritual power and protection that come from "yielding [our] hearts unto God" (Helaman 3:35) cannot be obtained merely by performing and checking off all of the gospel things we are supposed to do. Consistently completing the various tasks without experiencing the mighty change of heart and becoming more devoted disciples will not produce the spiritual strength we need to withstand the evils and opposition of the latter days."--P.163

Beautifully stated. The Gospel is not a checklist. It just isn’t. We want to systematize things sooo badly, but the Gospel resists this because God wants us to live, grow and ultimately experience the mighty change of heart and receive the power we need. Doing, following, blessing, serving, lead us forward on the path of becoming. This is where true Gospel power lies.

"Programs and meetings are not events to be managed; rather, they are opportunities to minister to individuals and families."--P.165

What a positive way (and, I believe, the correct way) to look at meetings and to make sure that our meetings are ALLOWING us to do these things! Meetings for the sake of meetings is gross. Meetings where we are able to organize and bless the lives of individuals and families is power. The beginning, “Programs and meetings are not events to be managed” reminds me of Hugh Nibley’s classic talk “Leaders and Managers” that can be found here: